Slow Burn | Naadeyah Haseeb

The glamorous teenager at the front of the bus is making me anxious, to a greater extent than teenagers already normally do, even allowing for the added paranoia from the weed. Something about the composed way the girl is sitting—her back straight, no movement other than her texting thumbs, not even once messing with her hair—both enchants and infuriates me. I have always fidgeted. Therapists comment on this but never actually explain what, if anything, it means.

The cool girl, this teenager, she doesn’t notice the stoned stare coming from behind, and I am thankful. I don’t want to be the creepy person on the bus, but am a bit worried that I might be. Everyone is passing up the open seat next to me to trek to the back or even stand, and I think perhaps I’m giving off a weirdo vibe that I can’t hold in check. While I’m happy for the sake of my personal space, I’m also a little insulted. I wonder if perhaps my jaw is clinched too tight after the endless coffee consumption throughout the day, and it’s making me look severe and frightening or something. I try to relax my face and appear approachable, but imagine that I’m just grimacing harder and so I give up.

This teenage girl, she gets off at the same stop downtown as me and I freak out while I’m following her, worried she may think I’m some prowler before I chill a little and realize it’s not like I’m some middle aged guy in a trench coat walking too closely behind. Just a stoner on her way to a bar on a Sunday afternoon. The girl stops to cross the adjacent street and I let out a breath that I hardly realized I was holding in.

*

Nearly every time I ride the bus, someone seated near me smells of booze, the subtle fruity aroma of the metabolites mingling in their breath, or a pungent odor of freshly consumed alcohol. I guess the people around me can smell it on me now, but I’m too happily buzzed to care. I bounce around a bit to my music until my knee connects with the body of the person next to me and I have to apologize with a loose drunk grin and mumbled sorry. He smiles back, this cute guy, so I purposefully accidentally let my knee brush him again.

I think about the psychiatrist who was “concerned” about my drinking, worried it would trigger more episodes. I wonder what good the meds are if I can’t have a drink to dull the edges when the world is just too much, which is a lot of the time, really. I think about my boyfriend who told me the other night, joking, that he was concerned I wasn’t drinking enough. I suppose I should stop worrying this means he only likes me when I’m drunk and fun and just, you know, embrace it.

A girl could become an alcoholic thinking too much.

*

I will not vomit on this bus. If I repeat this to myself enough times, I can suppress this incredible urge to puke and make it to work with my dignity intact. I should not have had that bottle of wine after stopping at the bar yesterday, but I can’t exactly take it back. I’ll have to deal.

My head hurts so much. The volume I normally listen to my music at is painful, but I cannot hear it over the traffic and the bus noises otherwise. I take my headphones out and put them back in almost compulsively, relieving my ears momentarily but also assuaging my paranoia that people can hear what I’m listening to, somehow.

Nothing to be done about the fear they can hear what I’m thinking. That’s what the 30 mg of the atypical anti-psychotic of my shrink’s choice is supposed to fix, but I’m so far unimpressed with the results.

*

I saw a dead mouse on the sidewalk on my way into the lab this morning, curled up and on its side with its mouth twisted open, and have been wondering if I am losing my mind again. For a long time my thoughts were consumed with the bloody images of carcasses of the mice and rats I’ve sacrificed in the name of scientific discovery. I think back to my big manic break during my grad school lab rotation and cringe remembering the twitching bodies on the guillotine and the scrape of bone as I scooped out a brain from a rat’s severed head.

I do in vitro work now. Cells don’t squeak, twitch, or bleed. There are no eyes you can watch the life fade from.

The bus arrives and when I get on the driver gives me a really weird look, and I wonder if he can smell the lingering odor of the half a joint I smoked while waiting. Probably he can. Or maybe I’m doing something weird with my face again. No matter. Just swipe my pass and hurry to a seat, ignoring all the eyes on me.

*

I’ve been poring over his words since last night, hearing them repeating in my head like a dirty piece of gum stuck to my brain. What does he need to talk about, anyway? Why couldn’t he have told me over the phone? I’ve been analyzing the conversation we had for clues, and am convinced this is going to be another talk about the pills.

I wonder what tipped him off that I’ve stopped taking them—if I babbled in a way that had him concerned or if I could have potentially said or done something off the wall that hadn’t seemed so strange to me at the time. He was quiet when I mentioned the bus anxiety and the dead mouse, emitting only dismissive yet contemplative hmms occasionally as I spoke.

“I have to go now,” he said later, “But we need to talk again soon. It’s pretty important.”

The weather has changed finally and we’ve turned back our clocks, so it’s about time for me to go mad. I should be wearing woolen tights instead of knee socks, taking my meds and going to sleep when it’s dark, but I’m so used to self-destructing in November that I’m not sure even my best efforts can stop it.

*

This beautiful girl, the glamorous teen, is on her way home from school. She’s laughing and talking excitedly with her less glamorous but still intimidating friend, looking carefree and youthful in a way that exacerbates my simmering quarter-life crisis. I should be feeling happy and thinking about my own teenage years in a gross wave of nostalgia, but instead am wondering when those supposed best years of my life are supposed to happen and if I already maybe missed them.

I was already losing it at her age, sixteen maybe. Prone to anxiety and depression in a way I knew wasn’t normal but able to keep it under wraps enough for my parents to think it was just some phase. I wonder about this girl, if she’s as content as she looks, if being a vibrant, glamorous teenager means you don’t have to worry about the people side-eyeing you and what they may be thinking, because fuck it who cares.

My boyfriend, he still wants to talk, but I’m on the wrong bus to get to his place. My brain is racing and my spoken words can’t keep up with my thoughts. The people of the bus are staring at me, as is their custom. The teenage girl gets off downtown and I follow, not too closely, just a crazy girl on her way to the bar on a Tuesday afternoon.

————
Naadeyah Haseeb is a writer from North Carolina. Her work has appeared in Quaint Magazine, Literary Orphans, and The Butter. She is the author of Manic Depressive Dream Girl from Maudlin House.

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